There is great confusion over the question of whether or not Jesus went to hell. After all, the wages of sin is death and “death” in the Bible always means “separation,” not ceasing to exist. We know that the “death” in Hebrews 6:23 “the wages of sin is death…” is separation from God.
We know that the physical death on the cross was as the sinners substitute. More, however, was required than His physical death. His blood was offered to God as the atonement for our sin. But there was more. Consider His suffering God’s wrath for us.
The Lord Jesus did suffer all the fires of God’s eternal wrath. Did He go where the rich man went in Luke 16:23-24? he didn’t have to. The judgement our sin deserved was upon Him in the hours on the cross. Being fully infinite/Eternal God as well as being fully man, He had an infinite/eternal capacity to suffer and bear the full weight of judgement our sin deserved.
He didn’t need to go to “hell” to pay our sin debt. The fires of God’s wrath came to Him and fell upon Him there on the cross. He was thus able, with His dying breath, to announce, “It is finished” (John 19:30). It was done, paid in full.
“Hades” the New Testament word most commonly used for the place of the departed dead, in general is where He abobe, under physical death for 3 days.
The answer to the question “Did Jesus go to hell?” depends on what your definition of “hell” is.
The English word “hell” is used to describe the place of the dead “hades.” In most English translations of the Scriptures, this word is translated “hell.” The meaning of the word “hell” is usually the place of the dead in general, but sometimes it is referred to as a place of unquenchable fire and torment for the wicked, as it is in Luke 16:23.
The context quite often makes clear which of the two is meant by the writer:
1. The abode of the departed dead in general
2. The abode of the departed wicked dead (a place of torment).
But, when most people think of the word “hell” they think of judgement, torment and fire. Revelation 20:14 provides a clear distinction between the two:
“And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”
While the Greek word “hades” most often is used in general for the place of the departed dead, here it is clearly a place of fire, torment and judgment for sin.
We get further clarification in the account of the rich man and the beggar in Luke 16:22-23 :
“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”
Note that the rich man went to “hell” (hades) and was tormented by the flames. While in hell he saw Abraham and Lazarus afar off.
When we read further, we find that there was a “great gulf” between the rich man and the beggar:
“And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”
Both men went to hades, but they were separated by a “great gulf.” The good side is called “Abraham’s bosom” here. The bad side is clearly a place of burning torment.
When the Lord Jesus was on that cross, He was separated from the Father. The Father literally turned His face from His only Begotten Son for the first, and only, time. That (and to fulfill the prophesy in Psalm 22:1) is why He cried in agony “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
At the same time, in those hours on the cross, He suffered the eternal, righteous, burning wrath of God for sin. “The Just for the unjust.” (The righteous Lamb of God for the unrighteous sinner) (1 Peter 3:18).
This was the substitution that our Holy God required in order to save sinners and remain righteous Himself. While having no sin of His own, the Lord Jesus bore our sin (Isiah 53:5-6) and the eternal judgement we were due as sinners. Our guilt was infinite because God’s holiness is infinite. his sufferings on the cross, in those hours, was infinite as He was judged in our place. Only He could completely satisfy God on our behalf. He did.
With His death, payment was made “in full,” on our behalf. This is why he cried out “It is finished” (John 19:30) just before His physical death. “Jesus Paid it all,” indeed! No more suffering as required to satisfy God’s justice on our behalf.
In Luke 23:46 we read: “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.”
God’s Word seems to indicate that when the Lord Jesus died he went to the same side of sheol/hades that the beggar was in (1 Peter 3:18–20). He then took the beggar and the rest of the believers with Him to Heaven (Ephesians 4:8–10). Admittedly, these passages are difficult.
The rich man and all other unbelievers who have died from the beginning of time remain. They will remain there until judgement day. Their ultimate end will be in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).
His suffering in our place had already been completed. None of this insinuates that the Lord Jesus went to a place of torment and flames, which is what most people think of when they hear the word “hell.” No one has been cast into the lake of fire yet, but all who die without Christ have entered or will enter a burning “hell.” These will abide there until the event prophecied in Revelation 20:11-15 takes place.
So to answer the question “Did Jesus go to a burning “hell?” The answer is: No.
To answer the question “Did Jesus go to Hades/Sheol?” The answer is: Yes.
To answer the question “Did Jesus go to Hell?” The answer is: It depends on your definition of hell.